Ross Eadie, blind Winnipeg city councillor, sees past disability

Mynarski councillor Ross Eadie may have suffered an embarrassing moment after being taken to the drunk tank, but the blind man has overcome tougher moments.

Eadie overcomes blindness but won't give up a Friday beer

Mynarski councillor Ross Eadie may have suffered an embarrassing moment after being taken to the drunk tank, but the blind man has overcome tougher moments. 3:06

Ross Eadie shrugs off the fresh scar over one eye as perhaps a hockey player would a bruise after a routine game. It's the cost of Eadie's relentless pursuit for an independent and remarkably busy life as a city councillor.

"Navigating the exterior environment was a little easier when I was younger," he chuckles. Eadie smacked his head after a wrong turn outside city hall this week.

Cane at the ready- "Black and yellow are cool colours," says Eadie (Sean Kavanagh)
CBC News started the day with Eadie at his North End apartment just after 7 a.m. The modern suite was created out of the bones of an old store, and it's neat and tidy.

The only indication of Eadie's hefty work schedule are boxes stacked in spare room, parts of his life that he's just too busy to unpack long after moving in to the Jefferson Avenue four-plex.

Eadie's life has to be organized. He lost vision in one eye at age nine to an incident he will only say 'involved a branch of a tree," and lost sight in the other eye after a fight at a social when he was 24 years old.

His glasses were shattered by a kick or a punch, and the shards took away his remaining sight for the rest of his life.

He says he's forgiven the man who hit him. 

"I hope he's gone on with his life. Once it sinks in what happened to me, I sure he didn't feel to good about it, and I'm partially responsible for it," he said.  

Eadie never spoke to him again, though they crossed paths in court during a failed attempt to convict the man of assault. 

Suits colour-coded to committee meeting

As Eadie goes through the motions of getting ready for the day, he moves speedily around his small kitchen to prepare breakfast. 

His hands hover centimetres from a blazing stove element and hot pot full of porridge and blueberries. He says he's a little behind schedule this morning so there is no time to make an omelette.

Utensils, ingredients and appliances (the microwave and stove control pads are taped over with Braille dots on the relevant keys) are all organized in a routine that Eadie is familiar with.  

In minutes, he's finished breakfast and is sorting through his closet for a blazer and tie. Keeping the wardrobe organized involves a little help from a friend as each item — pants, jackets, suits and ties, are hung by colour.

"Black suit for city council, grey suit for committee meetings, blue suit used to be for Protection and Community Services, now I'm on the Police Board, so I wear the blue suit for that," Eadie says, as he flips through the ties.

It's time to get going. The first meeting of the day is in St. Norbert, and he has to get to his city hall office, check in with his assistant and review some reports and e-mail before heading to the suburbs.

The morning routine of Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie, who is bllind. 4:14

On the move

The Mynarski councillor grabs one of two canes at the door (the longer one is for when he wants to move fast and get some exercise), locks up and pauses outside to check transit times by mobile phone. Too late to catch the bus at the stop across the street, he makes a fast right and heads for Main Street two blocks away.

Eadie moves quickly as he clicks his cane along the sidewalk on Main Street. He turns sharply left and heads straight toward traffic, then at the last second, on the cusp of the curb, veers right and parks himself next to other passengers waiting for the bus.

Working in tandem with his cane, Eadie's hearing focuses where his eyes once did and he notes the changes in sound coming off the busy street. The bus shack nearby momentarily blocks the din of vehicles near the stop, giving the man in black Rayban glasses an auditory landmark. 

He gets a couple of "Hi Ross!"'s from bus riders, jumps aboard, and in minutes, he is in his office at city hall.

Another skill Eadie has built up appears like an almost super-human ability to follow the transcription software that reads his e-mails and reports. The computer voice clips along at light-speed and Eadie appears to catch every word, barking out items to highlight at his assistant Aaron McDowell.

The two work as a team, with McDowell handling much of the case work in the ward and Eadie attending meetings and doing the political side of the work.

CBC reporter Sean Kavanagh follows Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie, who is blind, as he goes to work at Winnipeg city hall. 2:05

'[Politics] can be very difficult'

And there are plenty of meetings. On this day Eadie will taxi across town to a briefing held by TransCanada Pipeline outlining the company's plan to convert a gas pipeline to carry oil. The pipe runs under the city's aqueduct supplying Winnipeg's water from Shoal Lake, and the councillor shows up with plenty of questions.

He says he would bus out to the meeting, but there is no way he's crossing Pembina Highway in an unfamiliar part of town.

A packed schedule forces some juggling and Eadie returns too late for another meeting. But it does allow a few minutes for a coffee at the small cafe in the city hall complex.

Eadie admits the job can be stressful; he works 10 to 12 hours a day and sometimes the combination of work and pressure coupled with his lack of sight brings a few tears.

"It can be frustrating. The problem is ... you see, a political issue can get really stressful in that it's crunch time and you have three days to get something done and that will ... it can be very difficult," he says.

It's over coffee he opens up about his recent very public trip to the Main Street Project. 

A night he can't remember and wants to forget

A Friday night of pubs, beers and an art show found Eadie passed out in the back of a cab earlier this month.

Concerned police officers called Mayor Brian Bowman about the incoherent councillor and a tip to the media blew the night onto the airways and front pages of the newspaper.

Eadie is quick to respond when asked if maybe it's time to stop drinking.

"I'm not going to tell people I'm going to quit drinking when I know I'm not going to," he says. "What I have to do is drink responsibly. I'm not going to say I've quit."

When pressed, Eadie relates Friday night beers to the work, the place he grew up and life he chooses to live.

"I grew up in the North End. All our lives, and I am going to say, 'all,' because there are lots of people in the North End-West Kildonan, on a Friday, after work [having] beers. And then maybe you go to the bars to catch a band or you go to do this or do that. That's the lifestyle," he said.

Eadie has expressed apologies to the mayor, city staff, the police and personnel at the Main Street Project, but he isn't changing his ways, other than promising never to end up in a similar situation.

He rebuffs suggestions he has a problem. But he says he does realize he's 55 years old and can't drink like that any more.

"My drinking has not hampered my ability to do the job. I don't drink on the job, perhaps a beer at lunch once and awhile to relax me a bit," he says.

Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie opens up about a recent incident that found him passed out in the back of a cab, then later in the "drunk tank." He rebuffs suggestions that he should quit drinking. 1:41

One wish-stop the violence

It's nearing 4 p.m. and Eadie has another meeting at city hall, followed by an evening event in his ward. But there is a moment for one last question.

If a political fairy could grant him one wish for the City of Winnipeg, what would it be?

He hesitates, muttering there couldn't be just one thing, then leans forward with a sigh and says this won't happen, but — "The thing that hurts me the most is the good people of the North End hurting each other. Not just the North End, the people in this city. If people — even these gangsters — I don't understand the need for violence. Stop it! It's not good. It's not good for our community, it's not good for anybody. Everyone deserves to live feeling safe, and ultimately, I'd like to see that."

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